Lavender (Lavandula) is an easy to grow, evergreen shrub that produces masses of beautifully scented flowers above green or silvery-grey foliage. This drought-tolerant plant thrives in a sunny border, container, herb or gravel gardens.
Growing in the soil
Lavender is best planted between April and May as the soil is warming up. It thrives in any poor or moderately fertile, free-draining soils in full sun, and is ideal for chalky or alkaline soils.
On heavier soils, like clay and clay loam, lavender tends to be fairly short-lived, becoming woody at the base. To prolong the life of your lavender on heavier soil, add organic matter and gravel to improve the drainage and plant on a mound. If growing as a hedge, plant on a ridge to keep the base of the plants out of wet soil.
Space plants 90cm (3ft) apart, or if growing a hedge, 30cm (1ft) apart or, 45cm (18in) for larger cultivars.
Once established, lavender is fairly drought-tolerant and is suitable for coastal planting and gravel gardens.
Growing in pots
Lavender can be grown in large pots, 30-40cm (1ft-16in) diameter, using a multipurpose or loam-based compost such as John Innes No 3, with some extra coarse grit, up to 30% by volume, to improve the drainage, and some controlled release fertiliser granules.
Ensure that the compost is regularly watered in summer, but for improved cold tolerance, kept on the dry side during winter by standing in a cold greenhouse or in the rain shadow of walls.
Most lavender can be grown in pots, but it is ideal for tender types - H3 (half hardy) or H2 (tender), such as Lavendula canariensis, L. dentata var. dentata 'Royal Crown' AGM, L. lanata AGM or L. pinnata, which need to be brought undercover during winter and provided with light, well-ventilated conditions.
Lavenders should be pruned every year to keep them compact. On established plants use secateurs to remove flower stalks and about 2.5cm (1in) of the current year’s growth, making sure that some green growth remains. At Wisley, pruning is undertaken in late summer after flowering, although spring pruning is sometimes recommended in books. Lavender does not break readily from old wood and neglected specimens are best replaced.
Lavender pruning with secateurs
Lavender pruning with shears
Old woody lavender in need of replacing
Gardeners can be spoilt for choice with lavenders – see some of them on the RHS Plant Selector. Here are just a few to consider;
Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) is the hardiest - H5 (hardy-cold winter). Hybrid English lavender including L. × intermedia cultivars are usually H4 (hardy-average winter)
Some of the best purple-blue flowered English lavender, and good for hedging:
- L. angustifolia 'Ashdown Forest': Grey-green foliage and pale-lavender flowers from early summer. Height and spread 50cm (20ins) by 75cm (30ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Hidcote' AGM: Very popular cultivar with compact, bushy grey-green foliage. Dense, dark-violet flowers on stems to 23cm (9ins) long from late June. Height and spread 60cm (24in) by 75cm (30ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Imperial Gem' AGM: Bushy, dense grey-green foliage and deep-violet flowers from late June. Height and spread 60-70cm (24-28ins) by 70cm (28ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Lavenite Petite': Bushy grey-green foliage and mid-purple flower spikes from early summer. Height and spread 35cm (14ins) by 55cm (22ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Lodden Blue': Dense grey-green foliage and profuse violet-blue flower spikes to 18cm (7ins) long from early July. Height and spread 45cm (18ins) by 70cm (28ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Munstead': A popular old cultivar with compact, dense mid-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers. Height and spread 45cm (18ins) by 60cm (24ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Peter Pan': Grey-green compact foliage and deep-violet flowers from late June. Height and spread 45cm (18ins) by 80cm (32ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Royal Purple': Grey-green foliage and long deep-purple flowers in early June. Height and spread 75cm (30ins) by 90cm (36ins)
Dwarf cultivars for low hedging or front of border:
- L. angustifolia Little Lottie='Clarmo' AGM: Very compact grey-green foliage and pale pink flowers, late June. Height and spread 40cm (15ins) by 65cm (26ins)
- L. angustifolia Miss Muffet='Scholmis' AGM: Neat habit, grey-green foliage with violet-purple flowers, late June. Height and spread 30cm (12ins) by 50cm (20ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Nana Alba' AGM: Light green foliage on a compact plant with profuse white flowers. late June. Height and spread 30cm (12ins)
- L. angustifolia Garden Beauty='Lowmar': Compact, rich yellow variegated leaves in spring fading to cream in summer then green in winter and lavender-purple flowers, mid June. Height and spread 50cm (20ins) by 70cm (28ins)
- L. × intermedia Walburton's Silver Edge='Walvera': Hybrid lavender with bushy but open in habit with grey-green, cream edged leaves and lavender-violet flowers in late July. Height and spread 75cm (30ins) by 90cm (36ins)
- L. × chaytoriae 'Richard Gray' AGM: Compact habit and silvery-grey leaves with rich-purple flowers, early July. Height and spread 50cm (20ins) by 80cm (32ins)
- L. × chaytoriae 'Sawyers' AGM: Silvery-grey foliage and tall conical bushy lilac-blue flowers, early July. Height and spread 70cm (28ins) by 120 cm (48ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Hidcote Pink': Grey-green foliage and very pale pink/lavender flowers from late June. Height and spread 50cm (20ins) by 70cm (28ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Miss Katherine' AGM: Upright and spreading green foliage with bold pink to pale-purple flowers, early summer. Height and spread 40-60cm (16-24ins) by 80cm (32ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Rosea': Bright green foliage in spring ages to grey-green and pale-pink to lavender flowers, early summer. Height and spread 60cm (24ins) by 70cm (30ins)
- L. angustifolia 'Blue Mountain White': Pale grey-green foliage and pure white flowers from mid summer. Height and spread 60cm (24ins) by 80cm (32ins)
- L. × intermedia 'Alba' AGM: Vigorous with upright habit, grey-green foliage and tall white flowers from late July. Height and spread 90cm (36ins) by 90-120cm (36-48ins)
- L. × intermedia 'Edelweiss': Large bushy dome of grey-green foliage and masses of white flowers from late July. Height and spread 75cm (30ins) by 90cm (36ins)
Lavandula stoechas (French lavender) and L. pedunculata subsp. pedunculata cultivars and hybrid lavender may suffer in severe winters - H4 (hardy-average winter) or H3 (half hardy). They are easily recognised by the colourful bracts or ear-like tufts topping the flowerheads. They have a long summer flowering period are ideal for container cultivation:
- L. stoechas subsp. stoechas Lilac Wings='Prolil': French Lavender with a very compact neat habit, grey-green foliage and rich purple flowerheads topped with lilac-blue ear-like tufts through summer. Height 30-40cms (12-15ins)
- L. pedunculata subsp. pedunculata 'James Compton' AGM: Grey-green foliage and large rich-purple flowerheads with long pale-mauve ear-like tufts throughout summer. Height 60-90cm (24-36ins)
- L. pedunculata subsp. sampaiana 'Purple Emperor': Grey-green foliage and tall, dark purple flowerheads with ear-like tufts of rich crimson-purple,late spring & summer. Height 75cm (30ins)
- L. 'Regal Splendour': Grey-green foliage and profuse dark purple-crimson flowerheads with pinkish-red ear-like tufts, late spring to early summer. Ideal for patio pots. Height 60cm (24ins)
- L. 'Willow Vale' AGM: Robust cultivar with grey-green foliage and exceptionally large purple flowerheads with long pale mauve ear-like tufts throughout summer. Height and spread 60cm (24ins) by 60cm (24ins)
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